Shakira, Juanes, J Balvin, Carlos Vives – Colombia has produced some of Latin music’s biggest stars.
The latest is Maluma, a reggaeton-pop hearthrob whose sweet tenor, sexy videos, and muscled body (he trained to be a soccer player before he switched to music) have made him one of the hottest new acts in Latin America since he burst onto the scene in 2011 at age 17. Six years later the 23-year-old singer is an online powerhouse, with 20 million Instagram followers, 23 million Facebook likes/fans and 4 billion views on Youtube for videos like his latest hit, “Sin Contrato.” Now Maluma has set his sights on El Norte. His latest album has an English title, “Pretty Boy Dirty Boy,” and his first U.S. tour, which kicked off with three sold out shows in Texas last week, hits the Fillmore Miami Beach on Friday and Saturday.
The Miami Herald’s Jordan Levin spoke to Maluma (real name Juan Luis Londoño Arias) about how he got started, how he got his stage name, his American dreams and those risque videos.
How did you get started in music?
I’d been singing since I was a little kid. I loved to sing in family parties, for my friends and family. That’s how I discovered my talent. I found my voice singing pop and ballads, almost all of them Colombian artists. When I was 16 my family gave me a recording session with some Colombian producers, and that’s where I started my career.
Weren’t you going to be a soccer player?
I played soccer when I was a kid, I started when I was 8 and played for 8 more years. I was pretty good. I used to train with Atlético Nacional, which is one of the most important teams in Colombia. I used to train every day.
Was it hard to switch?
It was hard not for me, but for my dad. He thought I was going to be a soccer player. When I chose music my family was very surprised. But I told them this is my dream, this is what I want to do. And it wasn’t the wrong choice.
Juanes, J Balvin and you are all from Medellin. What is it about Medellin?
In Medellin there is a lot of talent. We love music and we love sports. There are a lot of artists coming up right now and they’re doing very nice music.
How did you get your name?
Maluma comes from my mom, my dad and my sister’s names. The first letters of my mom’s name are Ma, my dad’s is Lu and my sister’s is Ma. When I was 14 I got my first tattoo on my left leg, and it says Maluma. I’m a family person, and when I had to choose a name for my career, I chose Maluma, because I wanted to have my family with me forever.
Did you think you’d be so successful?
When I started my career I had a vision, but I didn’t think it would be this fast. It was a very, very big surprise. But I’ll say it again, thanks to my family I have my feet on the ground.
You have a huge social media following. Was that strange at first?
No. I think the key is to be real. I like to show people the way I am. They want to know what you’re doing, your day. My career is a lifestyle. Every day I wake up wanting to post my life, to show my life to the people who follow me. That’s my life. and I’ve been doing it for 6 years. I was born and raised in this media thing, so it’s normal for me.
What do you say to the criticism that you push this ultra sexual image of women in your videos, especially when you have a lot of young girl fans?
They’re very sensual songs and they’re one interpretation of music. They don’t mean that I’m this person. I don’t think you can leave children’s education to music, that should be determined by their parents. I think you should be really honest with kids, and show them what the real world is like. I love it when music is sensual, and being sensual doesn’t mean being coarse. Most people in these kinds of moments are coming to a relationship without any kind of commitment. It’s an interpretation. I love to tell different kinds of stories, and at this moment, these are the stories I like to tell.
How do you feel about breaking into the U.S.?
This is a big step, my first tour in the United States. It’s the first step towards conquering the American dream I have. I want to conquer this American world, to sing for all the people who love [Latin] music and the music that I do.
Maluma performs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $65 to $131.50 at livenation.com.